Friday, August 31, 2007

Julius Kahn Playground

Occasionally the sheer natural beauty of coastal California jumps up and figuratively smacks me upside the head.

It happened again on a hot Wednesday morning in the decommissioned Presidio army base...

...near the fancy neighborhood known as Presidio Heights.

The Julius Kahn playground there is a hidden jewel that is host to a small softball field that's more often used as a children's soccer pitch or as a place to play under sprinklers with the Golden Gate Bridge as a backdrop.

The playground also has a small community center, a children's playground, a basketball court, and four tennis courts for public recreation.

On certain weekday mornings, I join a group of mostly Asian seniors who play doubles tennis with their own idiosyncratic rules. Each set consists of four games, switch sides after two, with all disagreements quickly over because no set lasts very long. It can be a slice of heaven.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Marin Fiesta 2: Tacky Tiki Food Bloggers

We were invited to a second Marin County party within 24 hours, a housewarming for Rob and Debby Morse at their new digs in an early 1960s suburban track house in Terra Linda that was an unpretentious marvel of light and views of the Marin hillsides.

The huge backyard not only has a kidney-shaped lawn in the middle of a collection of wood chips, but also a pear tree so abundant in its bounty that our hosts were overwhelmed.

So they invited a couple of dozen food bloggers and their friends to a "Tacky Tiki Pear Party" to spread the wealth.

The 1960s theme, with the example of the period's exquisitely bad party food and drink thrown down as a gauntlet...

...proved no impediment to the creative foodies... exemplified by the CaliMex classic bean dip made by Anita and Cameron from the "Married...with dinner" blog (click here). Like most of the other chefs, they cheated a bit and instead of everything coming from out of a can, they made it with fresh local ingredients instead.

Our host, Rob Morse, was a daily columnist for the San Francisco Examiner during the years when the paper was actually quite decent (late 1980s-1990s). I know that sounds improbable, but it's true, and Morse's own version of Herb Caen's local gossip column was a kinder, gentler and more thoughtful take on San Francisco. He also didn't kiss the local gentry's asses with quite the undisguised enthusiasm of Caen.

During the sloppy, messy Chronicle and Examiner consolidation about five years ago, Morse was one of the early casualties and he retired from the business with a sense of relief that seems to be growing daily. One of his colleagues, the wonderful writer Carol Ness (in the groovy outfit above) survived the disaster by going from the City Desk to the Food section, where she's been happily esconced ever since.

Our hostess Debby Morse (above on the right) also worked in journalism for decades and retired after a stint working for the San Francisco Examiner during its fairly disastrous Fang Family period. Unlike Rob, who seems to be happy never having to look at a deadline again, Debby started a brilliant, quirky foodblog called "I'm Mad and I Eat" combining occasional political diatribes with paeans to the joys of cooking (click here). The blog has led to the creation of a new social network of fellow food writers such as Bonnie Powell (above on the left) with her food politics blog, "Ethicurian" (click here).

Other members of the network attending were Jen, above, who is an "eat local" advocate who started one of the first food blogs around four years ago called "life begins at 30" (click here)...

...and Catherine Ross with her British vegetarian cooking blog "Albion Cooks" (click here)...

...not to mention (left to right above) Amy Sherman and her "Cooking with Amy" (click here), Shuna Fish Lydon with "Eggbeater" (click here), and the young daddy with his "Sourdough Monkey Wrangler" (click here).

One of the highlights of the party was the early arrival of Dr. Biggles, a legendary Meat Dude with the site called "Meathenge" (click here).

He proceeded to dig a small pit in the lovely kidney lawn and with a couple of small boulders and some applewood charcoal created an instant luau pit. When I asked him if the sod would grow back, his response was, "That's not my problem."

Instead, he spent the afternoon grilling a succession of items, from large chile peppers for bite-sized chunks of chile rellenos... goat, bacon, tritips, and pork. It was an amazing feast.

After too much food and booze, our designated driver gave a ride to Sam Breach (above), who has what is arguably one of the best food blogs in the world, Becks and Posh (click here). Not only can she write and take photographs and design well, but her encyclopedic set of links are pretty much unrivaled. Even though she's getting sick of blogging since she has a serious "real" job to attend to, she's already accomplished quite a lot, as have all the other impassioned "amateur" journalists.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Marin Fiesta 1: Kerner Optical First Anniversary

There is a huge diaspora in the Bay Area of former Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) visual effects employees who are now working for other companies such as Pixar in Emeryville, The Orphanage in San Francisco, and Electronic Arts in Redwood City.

Just before George Lucas consolidated his digital workers into the new San Francisco Presidio campus a couple of years ago, there were not only massive layoffs from ILM but quite a number of longtime veterans of the company decided to stay put in Marin County rather than make the move.

The legendary ILM model shop, for instance, was never slated to be part of the new digital campus, and so the practical wizards there banded together and helped to form a new company, Kerner Optical (click here for their website), housing it in the old offices and soundstages in San Rafael that had been home to ILM for decades.

Last Friday they held a one-year anniversary party for about 800 people...

...that was an even mix of prospective clients, old friends and colleagues.

Every time you turned around there was another legendary pioneer in the visual effects industry...

...winding their way through model ships...

...and wonderful demonstrations of fancy equipment and monster blue screens.

According to a Society of Digital Artists article, "Mark Anderson (pictured above) worked at ILM for eighteen years beginning as a modelmaker and most recently as director of physical production. Yuska Siuicki is owner of Technology Application Specialists with twelve years of experience in stereoscopic 3D hardware and software development for film production, broadcast and gaming. Kevin Duncan is a Denver businessman who is supporting the purchase of Kerner Optical from ILM." (Click here for the whole article.)

The party was wonderful, with homemade food and a let's-put-on-a-show-in-the-barn spirit which felt like a polar opposite to Industrial Light & Magic's rather industrial aura.

May Kerner Optical thrive and prosper.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Switzerland

The San Francisco Symphony is going on a 13-concert European tour that starts at the Edinburgh Festival on August 29th, and after meandering through the BBC Proms in London and all over Germany, finally settles at the Lucerne Festival in Switzerland.

On Thursday evening, they held a "bon voyage concert," and the house was heavily papered with free tickets distributed through nonprofits...

...which meant a very long line at the will-call windows.

The concert started with local hero John Adams' 1986 "Short Ride in a Fast Machine," which is one of the best curtain raisers ever written for a large orchestra. The composer was even in attendance and took a bow as the orchestra slimmed down for the Ives Third Symphony.

The Ives was beautifully played and its fantasia on hymns sung at Christian revival meetings was strange and meditative, broken at the end by somebody yelling out a loud "Whoo-hoo!" at its soft, silent close which seemed to bemuse and bewilder the conductor Michael Tilson Thomas in about equal measure.

It's not that a rock concert shout-out is all that out of place for some classical music, such as the preceding Adams or the Strauss piece that followed, but it was definitely weird after the Ives Third.

The last piece on the program's first half was the Final Scene from "Salome," Richard Strauss' early operatic gloss on the decadent Oscar Wilde play, which the symphony is playing to feature the voice of the superstar Deborah Voigt.

Voigt wasn't available for these San Francisco performances, which was probably a good reason to play something else, but her stand-in was a beautiful young graduate from the SF Conservatory of Music, Lise Lindstrom. I couldn't hear much of her voice over the orchestra from where I was sitting on the Side Terrace, but Joshua Kosman in The Chronicle thought Ms. Lindstrom was wonderful (click here for the review).

Oscar Wilde famously wrote, "One must have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing," and I have a similar problem with the final scene from "Salome," an opera I grew to loathe while being a supernumerary soldier onstage at a San Francisco Opera production in the early 1990s.

Maria Ewing played the title role quite well in that production, with an all too convincing air of insanity, but it was the legendary old soprano Leonie Rysanek playing her mother Herodias who did everything under the sun to swipe the show. At each performance Ms. Rysanek would come up with new ways to upstage Ewing, including fanning herself whenever Salome had an aria or inventing some other piece of stage action to make sure the eye never left Leonie.

At one performance during a Salome soliloquy, Ms. Rysanek popped out of her throne, walked across the stage to the cistern where St. John the Baptist was being guarded by two soldiers (myself and the late Ian Myshkin), found some stage light, and started sticking her tongue out and making outrageous faces at St. John. Ian and I subsequently spent the next thirty minutes painfully trying to suppress involuntary giggles which would have rather ruined the scene, and we couldn't even leave the stage because we had to crush Salome with our shields for the finale.

Hearing this piece again, the hilarious and ridiculous scene came rushing back to memory, and when Ms. Lindstrom tripped on a stair upon her exit and executed a Marx Brothers pratfall in her fancy red concert dress, it seemed entirely appropriate though obviously mortifying.

The second half of the concert featured Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony, and fearing further disaster, I exited.

Update: The Symphony has started a blog of the tour over at SFGate that's quite interesting. Check it out by clicking here.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Defacing Federal Property

The weekly Quaker peace vigil in front of the Federal Building was joined by a group of sit-down Buddhist cultists who looked rather like gay leather dudes.

Also present, though keeping themselves somewhat separate, was the Code Pink group who had promised a "die-in action" in front of the Federal Building after the hour-long vigil.

They were joined by Grasshopper Kaplan (above)...

...the taxi driver running for San Francisco Mayor whose vehicle certainly fit the day's color scheme.

As Paul Craig Roberts, a former Reagan official and Wall Street Journal editor, writes in today's Counterpunch (click here for the whole article):
No pullout from Iraq while I'm president, declares George W. Bush. On to Iran, declares Vice President Cheney. Israel is a "peace-seeking state" that needs $30 billion of US taxpayers' money for war, declares State Department official Nicholas Burns. The Democratic Congress, if not fully behind the Iraqi war, at least no longer is in the way of it. Nor are the Democrats in the way of the Bush regime's build up for initiating war with Iran."

A woman was decorating the brutal concrete slabs around the federal building with messages in colored chalk, including the names and genders of recently murdered American soldiers which put the federal worker puffing away on a cancer stick below in a state of high indignation.

"You're defacing federal property," she yelled at the chalk woman, as if that was one of the worst and most illegal things a person could do. Meanwhile, the contempt most Americans feel for Pelosi and her fellow enablers of murderous criminality only grows with each day.

For a great series of photos and an account of the next two hours of protest, check out Luke Thomas' account on Fog City Journal by clicking here.